01/24/2007 12:00AM

John Rigattieri


Winters in New England are not only cold, but completely barren of Thoroughbred racing. That hasn't prevented Suffolk Downs-based trainer John Rigattieri from making productive use of what's ordinarily down time for Massachusetts horsemen.

Rigattieri, who prefers to keep such a low profile that he doesn't even come to the winner's circle for the traditional picture after his horses win, heats up when he shifts his operation from Suffolk to Laurel Park for the winter.

At last season's Laurel winter meet, Rigattieri finished second in the trainer standings with 29 winners. In the current meet, which began on New Year's Day, he ranks second through Jan. 21 with 11 wins out of 35 starters for an impressive 31 percent success rate and a profitabale $2.10 return on investment.

Rigattieri, who will turn 57 next month, maintains close to 40 horses in Maryland, many sent to him by the Florida-based Monarch Stables operated by longtime owner Frank Bertolino.

Since 2004, when Monarch greatly expanded the number of horses shipped north to Rigattieri, he has gone 154 for 575 (26 percent) with Bertolino-owned runners.

Rigattieri is successful despite the fact many of his horses are either claimers or unproven young maidens.

He is especially potent with horses making their first start off the claim, going 10 for 23 (43 percent) with a $3.11 at Laurel since January 2006.

"He has a good eye for claiming horses and buying babies," said Dyn Panell, Rigattieri's go-to rider at Laurel. "He's a great trainer. He puts horses in the right spots. I think he could go anyplace and win."

Panell, who has been riding for Rigattieri for seven years, said the trainer usually gives him the same brief advice before a race. "He likes to say 'Break and see where you're at.' I'm a good front-running rider, so that's what I usually try to do."

Two winners at Laurel earlier this month illustrate Rigattieri's knack for getting his horses to improve. Tour of Promises, a 3-year-old filly owned by Monarch, didn't show a drop of speed in her career debut in November, when she got shuffled back to last after getting bumped coming out of the gate. On Jan. 3, Tour of Promises broke cleanly and wired nine rivals by two lengths.

"She's a full brother to Full Promises, who was one of the first horses I ever rode for John and a pretty good horse," Panell said. "He thought the filly had some talent, too. But she got pinched back and I had to take back with her. The second time, I got the lead with her and she just kept going."

Saratoga Lulaby, a 3-year-old colt owned by another of Rigattieri's longtime clients, Manfred Roos, opened some eyes when he broke on top in a one-mile first-level allowance on Jan. 4. He romped by nearly 13 lengths, improving his Beyer from a 66 to a 90.

Rigattieri appears to have a knack for getting horses to stretch out from sprints to routes. Since January 2006, he is 11 for 40 (27 percent) with a $2.27 ROI using that angle at Laurel.

"Sprinters going long to one mile - John just loves that distance," Panell said. "He believes that at six furlongs, your horse might have speed, but somebody else probably has speed, too. That speed is different when a horse goes longer. He always has his horses trained so they can run all day, so going longer isn't a problem."

Once the weather warms up and Suffolk reopens, Rigattieri usually heads back to New England. There is a possibility, according to Panell, that the trainer will keep a string in Maryland during the summer and possibly send a few to Delaware Park and Colonial Downs. If that happens, horseplayers should pay attention to the patterns that were successful for Rigattieri during the winter meet at Laurel, especially with young horses owned by Monarch.